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Lawmakers Looking To Get In On The New Hip Crop -- Hemp

ball of hemp twine
Emilian Robert Vicol

Hemp is grown from the same type of plant as marijuana, but experts say it has countless uses that don’t include getting high. Lawmakers are considering a bill that would legalize hemp agriculture in Florida.

Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lakeworth) is sponsoring the bill.

“Let me start off with what this bill is not so everybody understands that this is an industrial hemp bill. This has nothing to do with marijuana, medical marijuana in its psychoactive form,” Clemens says.

Clemens has filed legislation to legalize the use of medical marijuana in years past, but this year he says he’s focusing on a different use for the cannabis plant.

"Hemp can be cultivated for the use in a list of wide-ranging products including foods, beverages, cosmetics, personal care products, nutritional supplements, fabrics, textiles, paper, construction and also insulation materials,” Clemens says.

And the variety of plant grown for those purposes is different from the kind used for marijuana. First it has a much lower level of THC, so Clemens says a person would likely get no euphoric effect from using it as a drug. And he says the two varieties tend to look a lot different. Cannabis plants grown for marijuana are less fibrous. They’re grown for the buds and flower.

"Those farmers who are wanting to grow industrial hemp do not grow the same varieties because they don’t have the interest in the psychoactive properties. They have interest in the kind of plant they can use for all the different types of things I talked about before – textiles, paper, construction materials--those kinds of things. That requires a very sturdy type of plant and it grows vertically." Clemens says.

And lawmakers like Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) say they’ve noticed some of the positive effects hemp can have.

"I use towels that have hemp in them and they are terrific! Really. I’ll tell you why. Because in this state you buy towels in the store and they don’t dry. I mean they’re wet after you dry yourself, but hemp towels dry,” Sobel says.

Meanwhile others are touting the plant’s health benefits. Hemp seeds are said to be super foods filled with amino acids. Robert Clayton conducted a study on behalf of the Florida Hemp Industry Association. He says he eats hemp seeds three times a day. But he says agricultural is where the plant’s major pluses come in.

“Hemp can earn as much money per acre as corn – as the best corn acres in America. When sown in rotation with corn it can reduce their costs in the next rotation,” Clayton says.

And Clayton says vegetable farmers can use hemp as a cover crop. He says instead of losing money, farmers could net about $200 per acre when using and harvesting hemp as a cover crop. Under that method, Clayton estimates hemp would become a $200-million annual cash crop for the state.

And Clayton says Florida has a competitive advantage over the 20 or so other states that have approved hemp agriculture – its climate.

“We can get multiple crops per year. Places like North Dakota could only get one crop,” Clayton says.

The measure passed the Senate Agriculture committee unanimously. Next it heads to the Criminal Justice Committee. Meanwhile, a similar bill in the House is waiting for its first committee hearing.